Might be a tad of an over statement, but if hot-tubbing, hiking, and chatting with someone counts as hanging, then I have hung with the great Sir Richard Branson. And if there is any lingering doubt about his genius, let me put that question to bed once and for all. On our first morning on Neckar Island, a group of us were given a tour by Sir Richard himself. It was not a Four Seasons kind of tour on raked pea gravel paths. It was a cook’s tour of the Island across forbidding jagged rocks and impassable ledges. The man is a true adventurer. At one point he turned to the group with a serious tone and said, “Gents that way. Ladies this way.” He pointed to a more rugged trajectory for the boys. And took the ladies on a slightly more gentle way across the craggy cliffs of his island paradise. After some serious struggle and tide navigation, we men found ourselves a bit lost until we heard the inimitable voice of none other than the man himself calling down to us from a picture perfect perch. “Excuse me. Would one of you lads be kind enough to snap a pic?” There he was, flanked by six beautiful women. My wife is the one under Richard’s left arm. The men were haggard and sweaty. There was Sir Richard, beaming, surrounded by beauty.
This kind of disarming humor is a Branson signature. He is always up for a laugh and a prank. At one point during the trip our friends woke up to a snake in their room. They aren’t snake people per se, so in a bit of a panic, they immediately called the main house to see if someone could help them. Moments later there was a knock on their door. It was Branson himself in a pith helmet, with a pair of tongs and a small burlap sack. When they opened the door he announced himself as “island snake patrol.” Attention to detail is another center of genius for him. These were the seemingly small details on a trip rich with so much bounty, and yet they are the things that we are all still talking about.
I was on the island with him for several days. I spoke very few words to him. The better men and women in my group became fast friends with him because of his welcoming island way. I never managed to quite rise above my awe to cozy up, but I did manage to ask him one brilliant question. I had no choice. I was in a hot tub, by myself, others were on their way, when suddenly Sir Richard shows up after a kite sail. It’s just the two of us. Awkward silence. My inner voice has no trouble jabbing at me, “Say something Lucas. Anything. Here he is. Your hero. A great man. A great business man. A great philanthropist. You’ve read all his books. Bond. Make a relationship with this man. Lucas! Lucas! Show time. Go!!!” Finally it blurted out. It came out as much a cough-snort as a question. “How do you do it all?”
He was very kind and warmly answered in one word, “Delegation.” Other guests rescued me from the moment with the distraction of beauty and champagne, but I got an answer that I have been ruminating over ever since my close encounter. This is a man running one of the greatest brands and business empires on the planet. He rises early and handles business in the UK, then plays a round of tennis, eats, has a kite sail, back for a bit of business or maybe a workout (he’s training for space travel, of course), lunch with the island guests, maybe a bit more work, then another sail and some afternoon doubles. All this while running the Virgin empire. Before the end of the trip I mustered enough mettle to ask a follow up question that actually evolved into a conversation. Successful delegation, it turns out, doesn’t mean just lobbing stuff over the fence to the nearest person that can catch it. Bransonian delegation involves combing the planet to find the perfect person for the job, and then showering them with empowerment to rise to their own genius. “My ability to do that, is my true genius. Doubles anyone?"